Uncharted, Recharted, Charts Lost

I’m a big fan of the writer Robin Sloan, not only for the output of his writing, but for his process, and the way in which he offers his readers access to (and participation in) that process. If you go over to his website, there’s an invitation to enter your email address “for secrets, etc.” I dropped my email in the box some time ago, and it’s a low-traffic, high-delight kind of subscription that reminds me a lot of the experience of backing Robin’s Kickstarter project and following along with him as he made a book.

A recent missive of his opened thus:


(That’s what Alexander Graham Bell wanted people to say when they picked up the telephone. I love stuff like that; it reminds us that every medium was wacky and uncharted once.)

It’s stuck in my mind since reading it, but perhaps not exactly in the way Robin meant it. Because what it reminds me of is the way that every medium, however familiar, becomes uncharted. That’s why I’m fascinated by things like telegraph code — we think omitting vowels, substituting homophonic numbers, and using acronyms to shave character count is zomg-clever, though I guess characters are comparatively cheap these days. And what about calling cards (not the plastic pre-paid kind) — how cool were they? But would you know how to interpret the turned-down corner of a calling card now? That reminds us that all communication is predicated on convention, on a shared set of assumptions about what we want to say to each other. People who came from Twitter to Facebook sound different from those who migrated in the other direction. Continue reading